Mindfulness has its roots in Eastern meditation practices but it is becoming increasingly popular in Western approaches to improving physical and mental health. Mindfulness was introduced to modern health by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness can be defined as paying attention to our experience in the present moment, to what is going on in our mind, body and day-to-day life, in a nonjudgemental or accepting way (Kabat-Zinn, 1990).
How can it help?
When getting on with life and all the responsibilities of work, it can be easy to get caught up with everyday thoughts, feelings and responsibilities. These can become overwhelming and cause people to feel bad without an understanding of the real reasons why.
Mindfulness can be helpful as it enables people to become aware of their preoccupation with worries, plans or the past, so they are less likely to react to future circumstances automatically. It can also help free the mind from internal struggles with emotions that are mentally tiring and allow people to tap into their own wisdom.
There are four main approaches to mindfulness: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). These approaches have been used to successfully treat individuals with a wide range of physical and psychological difficulties. Mindfulness is taught as groups of practical skills which can be learned over a given time period. Once the key skills have been learned, mindfulness techniques can be used throughout life.
Reading an article such as this one, will usually involve the mind being focused for some of the time and distracted at other times by noises or thoughts. Take time to read this article again and this time, when it gets distracted, gently and non-judgementally take notice and then return to focusing on reading once more. This type of awareness can be used during any activity and practising this technique will allow you to gain an understanding of your self in the present moment. Another, more formal exercise is given below.
Exercise in mindfulness: Breathing to connect
Sit or lie comfortably with your eyes closed. For the next six minutes focus in your breathing. Notice the gentle rise and fall of your rib cage and follow the air in and out of your lungs. Let any thoughts and feelings come and go, and each time you notice that your attention has wandered, gently refocus (you'll need to do this several times). For the next three minutes expand your awareness so that you're aware of your body and feelings as well as your breath. For the final minute open your eyes and connect with the room around you, as well as with your body, your feelings, and your breathing (Harris, 2007).
Positive effects of mindfulness
Mindfulness can help reduce stress and aid relaxation, improving an individual's quality of life in the long term. In addition, it can harness inner strengths and resources that help in making decisions about things in the present moment.